Superfluous code

In owning an iPad or iPhone, you may have heard of these things called “apps.”

They’re pretty nifty. I, however, am starting to pare down my app collection (as I have done with many things in recent weeks), and have found the experience to be incredibly cathartic.

I scrolled through the pages upon pages of apps that I have in my collection, most of which leave me asking myself “When was the last time I used this?”

Games, productivity, social networking, etc. These are all categories of apps that we see and think, “Wow, I’m going to use this all the time, and it’s a buck (or two, or three). I’m buying it.”

Then there’s schlock on your phone, and you never use it. The icon is pretty, it looks useful…but it’s really not.

It takes up space, saps your attention. You can’t get to the things you really need because you’re mired in a bunch of things that you thought you wanted at one point. Maybe thought you needed.

Maybe you don’t need an iPad or iPhone, or whatever whiz-bang razzle-dazzle doohickey that just came out. Maybe you don’t own one. Good for you and knowing what you want.

Let’s say you already have one, however. Let it be a reminder to you, a reminder to try to simplify the rest of your life. Every time you go to use your phone, netbook, iPad, blackberry, or other neato device, remember how lucky you are, and try to simplify something else in your life.

It’s like Lent, only in reverse.

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a front-facing camera

Everyone is talking about the Gizmodo iPhone 4 feature story. They’re talking about the possible ramifications of Gizmodo paying for known stolen property, of the moral issues of making the apple employee’s identity public. That’s all fine and good, but what about the camera? The front-facing one, I mean.

Europe has had front-facing video cameras forever, and their phone networks have been capable of sustaining two-way video calls for quite some time, as well. The idea never took off here, except among the mobile crowd with cheap netbooks tied to expensive data plans. Now these phone will have a front-facing camera and a rear camera that will (presumably) add even more weight to the use of this phone as a true convergence device.

I feel that signals even more than that. Sure it’s great that the phone is able to do so much, has a crazy high-resolution screen, and oodles of storage. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about the backbone that allows it to do all these whiz-bang tricks: AT&T.

If there’s a front-facing camera on this phone, it might be limited to use when the phone is in range of wifi. That’s fine, and wouldn’t be so bad…but what if this camera was finally AT&T’s way of saying, “Yup, we’re ready for you now.”

Their coverage and ability to handle high-load areas in places like New York and San Francisco may be lacking, but Chicago is great.

Bring on the video calls.


Never regret that which once made you smile.

Gizmodo did a week-long series of posts relating to memory and how the transition to social networking, cloud storage, and a more digital lifestyle has affected our ability to remember things, both positively and negatively.

I often joke that I, like David Bowie, have “the memory of a tiny goldfish.” what this often leads to is me forgetting often important things like birthdays, phone numbers, and previous engagements, despite my best attempts to keep these things in mind and present.

Another side-effect is my increasing inability to remember my life, past events and experiences. Sure, there are formative events, important parts of my life that I do indeed remember, and these will undoubtedly be clear to me for many years, but there are far more events, people, and places that blur together unintelligibly. I lose track of the who’s and the what’s. I get taken by the moment, unable to free myself from what is happening right now. While some people are unable to free themselves from the past, I cannot seem to find my way back to it.

In some cases, this is a good thing, a GREAT thing. I’m sure we’ve all had those moments we would rather not remember, experiences we’d rather forget. Twenty years ago, that may have been possible. Without a persistent digital memory, our past dangled above the abyss of oblivion. If I wanted to forget something, I stopped thinking about it. I burned the pictures, the letters, the drawings. Physical things held meaning, and their destruction was cathartic. Now, however, our lives are transitioning away from fickle physicality and into immortal ones and zeroes. Tiny bits of information define who we are now, and maintaining those bits and bytes from now until eternity is most likely inevitable. Vast data centers will store our information for…well…forever. Our demographics will be used as part of research and studies done by mega-Internet firms. Our pictures will remain tagged long after we have passed on. In a sense, we are now immortal. This immortality, however, brings with it another thing to consider.

Honesty.

In years past, a person engaged in illegal or immoral activity could hide his or her tracks relatively easily by being mindful of his or physical space. He or she could walk away from his or her old life and back onto the straight and narrow. Now, mistakes stay with you. Email exchanges, instant messenger conversations, and posts on forums persist and are accessible for many years after they have lost their relevance. They may no longer be important, but they still exist and are accessible. Can you say that about your notes from high school? Pictures from graduation? How about that wedding you went to? Digital storage and cloud computing make all of this possible.

But what if you want to forget? You can’t. You’ll run a search for something in your inbox, and you’ll be served up an email from a painful time in your life, potentially years ago. Maybe you haven’t thought about it for years, and now there it is, staring you in the face, a reminder of a past you may have tried to forget. In the physical world, the chance that mistakes will literally come back is slim. We can put things behind us, move away, physically destroy our past. In the digital world, we cannot. Just because you deleted that email doesn’t mean the other person did, and those pictures on Facebook, despite being untagged, still exist on their servers in someone else’s profile.

All of this begs us to make one simple change to our lives: live honestly.

We cannot do things the right way each time…we are human, after all. But as our digital worlds collide with the physical world, we are given the opportunity to live our lives more truly, to line up our intentions with our actions and live with purpose.

The next time you find yourself in a situation that may not be entirely characteristic of the person you have been trying to be, think of how you would like to be remembered. Chances are, someone is tagging you when the night is through, and they won’t stop to consider the ramifications of that red solo cup on your future careers. Do you want to have a job when all is said and done? Do you want to be remembered as “that guy who went nuts on the pool table wearing a lampshade as a hat?” If yes, then go right ahead, lampshade guy.

But, if you think for even one second that this is something you might not want future generations of Americans to read, don’t write it. As we move towards ubiquitous image, video, and sound capture, we will have to become increasingly more aware of the weight of our thoughts, words, and actions. So let’s all pull our pants back up and clean up our lives. Does that mean our Facebook pages may become dull and boring? Maybe. Does it mean that our lives will be lived more intentionally and meaningfully?

Unequivocally, yes.


untethered

Some people have this perception of me as this ultra-connected geek who always has the latest toys, tricks, and is up-to-date with all of the latest goings-on in the ever-changing world of technology.

The truth is, I’m not.

“But Paul,” you might say, “you always have the latest gizmo, the newest gadget, and you’re always finding new ways to use it.”

That may be so, but let me tell you a little about what technology is, how I see it, and what I believe technology should really do…

There are people who get gadgets, doohickeys, and thingamajigs because they’re new and shiny, because they are something to ogle and and feel proud of owning. There are other people who acquire these aforementioned devices because they’re interesting or intriguing. Others shun these devices on principle, because they just don’t see a point, or think that “the old way” is just fine. Still others don’t see themselves using it, or can’t find a way to fit that technology into their daily lives. I stand somewhere at the intersection of all of those.

See, technology, to me, should be invisible. Human evolution has never been measured in how much we stayed the same, how much we stagnated. We have always defined ourselves by “progress,” and this progress, this applied knowledge, is all what I would consider “technology.” take your toaster, for instance. It hasn’t changed much since its inception. Bread goes in, burned bread comes out, and (for some strange reason) it tastes better. You can modify the toaster in so many ways, but the end result is the same: burned bread. Is there a better way to burn the bread? Maybe. Does it matter? Most likely not.

But what if there was a better way? Would you use it? What if there was a toaster that made toast “better?” Would you embrace this better way, or would you simply say, “No, the old way is fine,” despite evidence to the contrary?

That’s the crux of it, the main way I see the many advancements that the world is making constantly. I look for the “better way” every single day. Is there a better way for me to do X task, or is there a way I can streamline Y? Is there a device or service out there that I can use to make the things I do every day easier? That’s my goal.

It’s also easy to get caught up in the trap of constantly looking for new things, but that trap is a non-issue for me, simply due to the way I’ve positioned myself in the news curve. Most people find themselves falling behind (and, despite the things that I know about and am capable of, I still fall behind in many things), but since I’m usually at the forefront of that curve, looking at what’s on the horizon, I can make assessments of the viability of devices or services far before they become mainstream. That’s why I always look like I’m “ahead.”

It’s a trick, really.

In reality, I’m still playing the same game everyone else is, but I’m doing it with things that may not exist yet. I use what is available to me right now, and till the soil for what is just around the bend.

The only reason, the one and only single solitary reason I do that, is so that I can be more human, more honest in my living, more attentive to the world around me. I want my tech to be so advanced and integrated that I no longer need to adjust my life to fit the use of these silly devices and services.

Over the summer, I was talking to a friend in a foreign country, sending pictures I was snapping with my camera of a sunset I was watching. We shared that moment, and it was all because of the incessant march of progress.

Whether or not you see technology as useful or useless, worthwhile or worthless, I wouldn’t give that moment up. I wasn’t thinking about the wires, the screens, the processor speed. I was just sharing a sunset with someone very far away.

We live in the future, indeed.


a funny thing happened

I’ve had the chance to use my iPad for about a week now, and the experience has been incredibly rewarding. Aside from being just…FUN, the iPad has already changed the way i think of “personal” computing. What I think is interesting is the speed at which this change has occurred. I was naturally hesitant when I started thinking about taking on the iPad as my “primary” computer, since there were things notably absent from the final software and hardware. Interestingly enough, none of those things matter now, and I wondered why they ever really did.

I packed up my little netbook this morning to sell to a colleague of mine. In order to get the little beast ready for sale, I had to reformat the hard drive. Normally, this is a process that I’m well familiar with. What I wasn’t counting on was my reaction to the process.

“Wow,” I thought as I booted into windows XP for the last time, “this is really ugly.”

I’d like to say that I miss windows XP (or vista, or windows 7), but I just don’t. I don’t see why most people would want anything other than this experience when they’re not in front of a “real” computer. I fully understand that there are programs and “apps” that simply don’t work the way they would on a desktop, but I think that’s the point. You already have a central data point at home, complete with all sorts of computing power. The last thing you need is something to duplicate that. What I (and maybe you) want, is a computer that doesn’t need to be managed, that simply disappears. The only thing I ever think about is storage capacity, and even that’s not a problem. I did fine with 16 gigs on my netbook, so the 16 gigs I have here is plenty.

The other thing i found myself able to do? Focus. How often do I get distracted by useless things on the internet, end up spending most of my day reading news articles that have no bearing on my life or my intended future life? Too often, and I’m sure most of us could say the same. This machine creates focus, it creates connection to the material. I’m not typing right now, I’m creating, I’m thinking. A machine that allows for thought, innovation, movement. This is the beginning of where we begin to see the “interface” disappear. It’s not about finding what you want in a maze of menus and jargon, it’s about the device becoming what you need it to be. It’s about synergy.


the obligatory post written on an iPad.

So here it is. An uncommon use of capitalization, courtesy of the iPad’s vigilance over my typing, a post about how fun it is to type on keys that don’t actually exist, and how amazing it is that the future is finally in my hands.

I read a quote from someone (or many people), who were arguing that the computer is now shifting towards content consumption, that people are becoming dumber, and that this whole thing is going to come crashing down when people are all sheep under apple’s benevolent but iron-fisted rule.

What? Really? You’ve got to be kidding me. How is this any different from using a regular computer to “create content?” Here I am, typing away on this immaculate glass screen, and you’re telling me that my creativity is dead? Is that because i can’t access the command line? Is it because I don’t have a hacker spirit? Is it because I’m just a mindless drone? Maybe it’s because I’m not running a pandora app in the background. That’s gotta be it. I just don’t get it. If I was using my net book, i really wouldn’t have a whole plethora of options in terms of this mythical “content creation,” either. I don’t run Photoshop, or edit videos…but do you do those things on YOUR netbook? Probably not. If you do, i know a whole bunch of people who would like to get in line for your magic “content creation” device.

To be honest? I probably have access to more “content creation” apps here than i do on my hp mini. If i want to draw a picture, i need a tablet of some sort. I had a tablet pc way back when. It was expensive, and it honestly didn’t do anything more than this little wonder does. Ultimately, I think its use of a traditional windowed interface was what killed it. I had to spend more time trying to figure out how to manage my screen real estate than actually use the computer. I also had to worry about things like system specs, available memory, and clock cycles. This is the ps3 of computers: you put something in, and it just works.

Bottom line is, I can “create” just as much here as I can anywhere. It’s just nicer here.


these ain’t your momma’s comics

so i read a couple things recently from cory doctorow. it sounds like he’s whining about a really great product that everyone likes just to whine about it. here are some of the choice bits.

“I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup…”

and

“I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone spelunking in the used comic-bins at a great and musty store to find back issues that I’d missed, or sample new titles on the cheap.”

this means nothing to me. i was never a “comic-book kid” and have no intention to be. this app means that i can get comic books now, which is something i may never have done in the past. instead of being alone with just a handful of people, now you have the ability to connect with people who may have never gotten into comic books to begin with. this is important. your world has just gotten potentially way larger. if you still want to collect the physical manifestations of your childhood memories, do that. apple or marvel or whoever you’re whining about hasn’t taken that away from you. they’ve given other people something to do as well.

“And as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create.”

it’s called THE INTERNET. look it up. it’s open, free, and you can make whatever you’d like for it. the funny thing is, you experience this same sort of lockdown every single day when you buy your groceries, purchase shoes, or even go online to shop for your iPad alternatives. apple has created a marketplace for products, and they get to pick what’s sold there.

let’s say you owned a store, cory. maybe a grocery store, maybe a shoe store. maybe it’s a website that sells computer accessories. now let’s say, cory, that i go to that store (real or virtual) and i want to buy some human organs. what’s that, cory? you don’t sell human organs at your store? WHAT?! this is an OUTRAGE. i cannot believe that you would open a store and then choose what gets sold there. you must be some kind of egomaniac dictator. fine then, i’m going to take my business ELSEWHERE.

and i can.

i can go through shady, black market channels and get me a whole box of spleens if i wanted.

the iPad, iPhone, etc. are no different. there is a store, and it sells things. if i want other things that the store doesn’t sell, there’s a market for that, too. i simply have to put a little more work into finding it.

just like you and your comics. i want to buy a comic and have it delivered to my hand. you want to go out and find a comic. more power to you.